I get asked all the time how my husband and I are able to save, at a minimum, 60% of our take home pay. It’s simple really – we live below our means but within our needs.
Now, I bet you’re thinking, but, Brooke, I do live within my means.
The important point here is this: living within your means is not the same as living below your means.
Living within your means is spending what you know you can reasonably afford based on your current income level.
For example, say you bring home $5,000 a month, before taxes. After taxes you rake in about $3,750. If you’re single with no kids, maybe your monthly expenses total $2,500, leaving you with an extra $1,250.
Within your means would imply that you could reasonably spend that $1,250 without falling behind on any other bills. So you purchase a 2016 Chevy Silverado, fully loaded, for $58,000 MSRP. I did the math on Chevy’s website; with current interest rates your estimated monthly payment over 4 years would be $1,238 with zero down. You haven’t lived below your means, so you don’t have an extra couple grand lying around for a down payment.
You rationalize that you need a new vehicle anyway and you can afford the monthly payment. The car makes you happy so you go for it. You think, at least it isn’t one of those luxury cars like BMW or Mercedes. It’s just a pickup! And I bet you’re also thinking, if I finance it over 72 months then the monthly payment will be lower.
It is absurd to pay that much interest on something that will never ever see a return. It irks me to the core when people argue that their vehicle is an investment. If you’ve figured out how to sell your car for more than you paid (unless you invest in classic cars), by all means let me know. Anyway, I digress. I’ll leave the car argument for another day.
Did you need a new car? Perhaps.
Did you need that brand new car? Probably not.
Living below your means
Living below your means is spending less than you know you can afford. My husband and I recently moved to Georgia and decided to purchase our first home. Being that we are DINKs (dual-income, no kids), our mortgage offers were outrageous. Our bank legitimately offered us $550,000 which amounts to a monthly payment of $2,600. That isn’t much more than my first studio apartment in DC. So right off the bat, the offer seemed acceptable.
I’m not telling you this because I think we’re wealthy; we most certainly aren’t. I’m telling you this because we work hard and we save hard. It isn’t really unreasonable for the bank to think we could have afforded that much based on our income and savings. I ran this $550K figure by my husband and we both shook our heads and laughed. We decided to set our personal budget to less than 32% of that figure.
While we knew we technically could have afforded the ridiculous offer, we knew it wouldn’t be a smart move. I wouldn’t have had the option to quit my steady job and start a business, knowing it would be a while before I actually made any money.
We wouldn’t be able to drop a couple grand on a sweet vacation next year. We wouldn’t be able to continue with our aggressive investing strategy or max out our retirement savings. We just wouldn’t have had as much freedom.
My point is, just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you should spend it. In fact, you should be spending far less than you are bringing in. I know, I know, you only live once so spend it while you have it. However, I have to tell you, my husband and I never want for anything.
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We have a healthy travel budget and we’ve seen and done things many people only dream of. I’m talking glacier hiking in Alaska, camping under the stars in Yosemite, wine tasting in Napa Valley. We drive reliable vehicles and have a beautiful home. We can afford these things because we consistently live well below our means.
Live below your means but within your needs.
Spend less than you bring in on a consistent basis, and I guarantee you will see your savings and investments grow quickly. But why should you care about saving money?
For us, we want to retire when we’re in our 40’s. So saving hard now is one of the most important things we’ll do.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Brooke Cline, a first generation blogger and finance ninja, owns and operates a full service accounting and bookkeeping firm, Emergent Advisory LLC. She has spent the last six years in the accounting and finance world, providing services to government entities, real estate empires, and Silicon Valley startups. She is passionate about helping businesses grow from the ground up. She and her husband live in Georgia with their Wheaten terrier, Lucy. Connect with @starr_cline on Twitter.